The soldiers were up on the helideck so they could see the entire vessel. They were national troops, not elite troops. I imagine they were useless troops that they sent out there. But they had real guns with real bullets and they played with them, so they were actually a danger. They were stoned all the time and had Walkmans they would listen to. I almost had them talked into letting me fire the [30 caliber machine] gun a few times. But they must have had to count their ammunition, so I never got to do that. There were four of these soldiers. They never caused any damage, but they injected this attitude into the situation that there was this loose-cocked cannon that could go off anytime. The security they were providing wouldn’t have worked out very good if it was needed. There was a ticking time bomb effect and I was glad to see them off, because they weren’t there all the time. But the canoe killers were.
This is a large, articulated device made of steel tubing, a large welded assembly. Picture a finger that had, instead of two joints, maybe eight and all were movable. You could cause this thing to achieve the proper angle to contact the seabed. If you get the angle wrong it could break, a really important device and you need people working on it that really know what they are doing, a lot of potential for disaster. The stinger trails the barge and may be curled up like scorpion’s tail or floated in the water.
There was one small boat, similar to the canoe people—pirates, basically—who had attempted to come abreast when the barge was moving. There had been people in it. But as we sailed along the empty boat was twirling around the stinger as it dragged along in our wake, not a soul in sight.
There were at least three or four canoe killers on any shift, all big goons, anyone of them could have gone into the NFL. They had authority over any national on board [meaning the deckhands]. There were probably eight of the warriors from the tribe we had hired—and what better job for a warrior generally just kept order among the nationals.
The nationals did all the hard work, dragging the big cables, rigging the crane loads, welding, burning, the duties any seaman would do on a vessel.
The shackle is a U-shaped implement that has a straight pin across the bottom that closes and you use it to attach two cables together. These are made from good steel and the size depends on their rating. When you get up to a fifty-ton shackle, they weigh several pounds, some of them weighed 30-40 pounds so the small size to weight ratio made them a very good missile.
The canoes were wood dugouts, powered by paddles [an engine is the kind of thing the government would have], water-logged, so the hulls were actually soft, so when you dropped a heavy weight on them it would punch through them like paper. They were strong from the bottom, but weak from above. They would usually come out in pairs, grapple onto the side of the ship and the boarders would swarm up to grab some things. The other canoe would hang back and see if all went well. If it did, they would swarm in also and grab everything that was not nailed down. But if they saw a shackle attack they were gone. The larger shackles were used by the Canoe Destruction Team to sink the dugouts, which would go right to the bottom.
Some of these people could not swim. For those who could swim, there were smaller steel shackles to drop on them and send them to the bottom. I witnessed one shackle attack and heard of others. Once you are at a certain location, word gets around and the pirates come out, but once you kill a few of them they don’t come back.
If you kill them right out of the gate that just discourages people. The actual valuation of human life is not really there. They were using an old Russian cargo plane and the maintenance wasn’t there. They were using it for passengers and the hydraulics failed, causing the back loading door to open, and 80 of these people were dumped into the jungle. It was just a blurb in the newspaper. Imagine if that happened in the United States, dumping 80 innocent citizens across the landscape—so there’s the upside of civilization.
You might ask why the soldiers wouldn’t take care of these canoes with their 30 caliber machine gun. But it was actually just an intimidator. When it came down to killing people they preferred doing it with shackles.
(c) 2017 James LaFond